New Zealand planning tougher gun laws after deadly mosque attacks

By Darryl Coote
A mourner places flowers at a makeshift memorial Saturday near the Al Noor Masjid mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. Photo by Mick Tsikas/EPA-EFE
A mourner places flowers at a makeshift memorial Saturday near the Al Noor Masjid mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. Photo by Mick Tsikas/EPA-EFE

March 18 (UPI) -- New Zealand lawmakers agreed in principle Monday to strengthen the country's gun laws, three days after police say a man killed 50 people at two Muslim mosques in Christchurch.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday new restrictions are coming to tighten what are already considered tough firearm laws.


Ardern said Friday's shootings "exposed a range of weaknesses in New Zealand's gun laws."

"We've unified, there are simply details to work through," she said. "The clear lesson from around the world is that to make our community safer the time to act is now."

Ardern said she'll share more details later this week, but stressed the coming action is not aimed at legal gun owners in New Zealand.

"I think what the public rightly are asking is, 'Why is it, and how is it, that you [are] currently able to buy semi-automatic military style weapons in New Zealand?'" Ardern said.

Citizens must pass a number of steps to buy a gun lawfully in New Zealand -- including medical, mental health and criminal background checks. Owners must also pass checks for domestic violence and home security and take a gun safety course. The majority of people who apply for a gun purchase in New Zealand succeed. Better than 99 percent of those who applied in 2017 received a gun permit, police figures show.


The New Zealand government set a one-week deadline to approve changes to gun laws.

The accused gunman, Australian Brendan Tarrant, bought his firearms legally, authorities said. Earlier Monday, New Zealand police Commissioner Mike Bush said Tarrant was the only one responsible for the mosque shootings.

"I want to definitely state that we believe there was only one attacker responsible for this horrendous event," Bush told reporters.

Police arrested four people after the attacks Friday, but said just one was related to the shootings. Police charged Tarrant, 28, an accused white nationalist, with one count of murder but said more charges are likely.

The investigation, involving 250 detectives and specialists, is the largest in New Zealand history. Bush said it's an international inquiry covering jurisdictions all over the world. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Australian Federal Police are also helping in the case.

New Zealand's threat level will remain high so police and emergency personnel are "highly vigilant and visible" throughout the country. The level was raised Friday for the first time in its history and it will remain "to ensure that everyone in New Zealand feels safe," Bush said.

Authorities on Sunday began releasing the victims' bodies to family members.


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